An audit of both the town and school budgets, among its findings designed to strengthen controls on spending and promote efficiencies, recommends that some Board of Education (BOE) business be handled by the town's purchasing director.

However, BOE Chairman Donald O'Day told the Westport News: "That is in conflict with state law that separates line-item control of Board of Education spending decisions from local town control."

The town's "funding bodies in Connecticut approve total spending levels, not individual line items; that line-item

authority rests with local Boards of Education," he added.

Fellow board member Mark Mathias welcomed recommendations for saving money, but also raised questions about the purchasing director getting involved in BOE matters.

"If we're going to be held to a budget ultimately the Board of Education has to have the control over what we purchase, what we approve or disapprove."

Mathias said bringing the purchasing director into the fold of the school side of the budget would be like "giving someone a paycheck, but yet someone else is responsible for how that money is spent."

BOE members discussed the audit, which was conducted Lynn Scully, the town's internal auditor, at a meeting last week.

"We are not a department of the town," Mathias said. He added there are only a few things the town can do regarding the education budget -- disapprove it or approve it and "tell us how much we have to spend."

Although Mathias doesn't want the purchasing director involved in BOE matters, he did welcome other recommendations in the audit report, such as joint purchase of electricity and fuel by the town and school system, with the intent being to secure cheaper rates. Electricity alone accounts for 10 percent of the total town budget.

While BOE members contend some of the audit recommendations are disallowed by state regulations, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff doesn't share that view.

"I know that Fairfield has something similar with the purchasing officer involved in purchasing for the town and the school system," he said, adding that Trumbull also does.

"Obviously it can be done," he said.

However, he said that school board officials have to allow it.

"They can do what they want to do," he said, but "the taxpayers want an efficiently run town government, inclusive of the schools.

"The taxpayer is looking for savings," he added.

Objectives of the audit were to: review existing federal, state and local requirements as they relate to municipal procurement of goods and services; obtain an understanding of and document the various procurement processes for the town of Westport, including the public schools; determine key controls in these processes, developing and conducting analytical procedures to determine the adequacy of these controls; identify opportunities to improve efficiencies and controls in procurement processes; prepare a draft report of all findings and recommendations to review with department heads, appropriate administrators and the Board of Finance Audit Subcommittee; and edit and finalize audit report for presentation to the Board of Finance.

Key procurement procedures reviewed were: professional service contracts, bids, quotes and requests for proposals; fixed assets/inventory; credit cards/reimbursements; agency (special revenue/student activity) funds, and utilities.

The BOE, which has received comments on the audit over the last week or so from the Finance Department, the first selectman's office and Assistant Superintendent of Business Nancy Harris, is next scheduled to meet Aug. 30.

"This obviously an ongoing effort," said BOE member Sandy DeFelice.